Metro Weekly

‘Creed III’ Review: Pulling Punches

For his feature directing debut, Creed III star Michael B. Jordan turns in a solid but exceedingly safe fight drama.

Michael B. Jordan in Creed III

Heavyweight champion boxer Adonis Creed takes mighty swings inside the ring in Creed III (★★★☆☆), but the same can’t be said of the film, which sticks safely to a sports drama formula in this pat third bout in the franchise that Rocky Balboa built.

To be sure, the movie reps a bold swing for Michael B. Jordan, who both reprises the role he introduced in Ryan Coogler’s 2015 hit Creed, and, for the first time, steps behind the camera himself to direct.

The screen vet, a professional actor since he was 12, acquits himself well by resetting the franchise focus back to boxing action, with a healthy dose of training, trash-talking, and fight scenes laced with super-slow-mo and close-up shots of muscular blows pounding faces and flesh.

As you’ll surely recall, Creed II, directed by Steven Caple, Jr. and written by a bunch of people, relied heavily on the Rocky vs. Drago mythos established decades ago in Rocky IV. Short on gladiators duking it out, the movie bogged down in the family drama of sons stepping out of their father’s shadow.

This round — scripted by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin — skips the nostalgia play, and leaves Rocky Balboa to his quiet retirement in Philly. Adonis Creed’s gonna fly on his own now.

Though credited as a producer, Rocky star Sylvester Stallone doesn’t appear, and the Italian Stallion doesn’t even come up in conversation. It’s the filmmakers’ gutsiest move in terms of storytelling, setting these characters free from the past films, and allowing them to forge ahead to fresh territory.

But then the movie dredges up a new figure from Creed’s past to antagonize the champ in a battle between childhood friends that unfolds with utter predictability, including a dramatic twist that only Creed doesn’t see coming.

The script is sharp enough to suggest that maybe Creed misses obvious signs of dubious behavior in his midst because he’s softened since he was a pugnacious kid running the streets of Crenshaw. Now he’s in his celebrity boxer era, a family man, happily retired, running his training gym, rolling around L.A. in his Rolls-Royce SUV. And he’s so glad to reconnect with his childhood boxing pal “Diamond” Damian Anderson, played by Hollywood’s man of the moment, Jonathan Majors, that he simply doesn’t recognize the threat his old friend poses.

Jonathan Majors in Creed III

Fresh out of the pen after 18 years, Damian, behind his genial smile, seems to be seething with hunger, for redemption or revenge — so the threat is clear. Creed’s instincts might also be clouded by guilt, as revealed in a flashback subplot that unfolds, like much of the film, with few surprises.

Those flashbacks piece together the crime that put Damian away for half his life, and at least evoke a gritty sense of reality, as opposed to the onscreen developments that seriously strain the film’s credibility.

Ivan Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) makes a brief return, taking on Creed’s protégé, Felix Chavez, played by real-life boxer Jose Benavidez, Jr. Their laughably imbalanced heavyweight bout in the film, with towering Munteanu a good half-foot taller and 80 pounds heavier than Benavidez, looks like a fight no legit boxing commission would sanction. For the record, Benavidez generally fights two or three weight classes below heavyweight, and we can tell. 

Similarly, the script contrives to get Damian in the ring for a shot at the heavyweight championship title, despite the fact he’s never had a professional fight. The filmmakers push to get us seated for a climactic Dodgers Stadium championship fight that doesn’t feel earned so much as ordained. 

The supposed spectacle of that finale lacks the impact of the film’s more intimate scenes, like the heart-to-hearts between Jordan and Tessa Thompson, returning as Creed’s partner, Bianca, or with Phylicia Rashad, as Mary-Anne Creed, the only mother figure in Creed’s life.

The detail and sensitivity in those quiet moments — like a glance from Damian revealing his outsized ambition, or a daddy-daughter tea party with Creed and his adorable daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) — land with subtle force, and truly stir excitement for Jordan’s future rounds behind the camera.

Creed III is playing in theaters nationwide, including Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Visit

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